When the Las Vegas shooting happened on October 1st, 2017, I was about 1 km from the tragic massacre. Because people jumped the fence onto the airport tarmac to escape for their lives, all planes were grounded. I was stranded, but safe.
Friends were thinking of me, but one, in particular, posted that when she heard it was a Country Musical Festival, she knew I was fine.
You see… if there is one genre I don’t particularly like, it’s Country.
Fast forward almost one year, I arrived from Vegas from a red-eye flight, landing this morning. The jet lag combined with lack of plane sleep sucker-punched the energy out of me today.
Digging deep, I found my second wind and attended Steve Earle & The Dukes.
Why would I attend a show with such a Country influence?
Sonic Highways was an 8 episode HBO show by Dave Grohl & the Foo Fighters. From Chicago to New York City, they visited 8 cities and spoke about the musical history particular to that city. They also recorded one song in each city, based on what they experienced.
I was surprised that episode 3, which featured Nashville, was so good! Of course, Steve was included in the musical history of that town. I came to the realization that I enjoy SOME country.
Copperhead Road was released almost 30 years ago, on October 17th, 1988. This album served to take him out of the country niche and expand into rock-n-roll. It made an impact.
For this tour, Steve & the Dukes would perform the album in its entirety and in the same order.
The Mastersons are a duo married to their music and each other. Described as an Alternative Country Band from Brooklyn, they delighted the crowd.
I have to confess that I did not see them perform, arriving just after their set.
I did get to see them play as one-third of the Dukes where they joined Steve and his band to complete the sextet that would perform for us tonight.
Eleanor’s voice was bone chilling and Chris let his guitar do all the talking, so I missed a truly great opening set. This was amplified by the fans waiting in line to meet with Steve, who had both Steve Earle & The Dukes merchandise as well as The Mastersons.
“I bought the album because of her voice.” Said one fan. I kicked myself.
“Last Night” from the Traveling Wilburys welcomed Steve & the Dukes to the stage. They promptly started with the title track of “Copperhead Road”.
What a blast from the past. The combination of the gritty rock arrangements, combined with Steve’s voice, which sounds like he swallows liquid sandpaper just before hitting the stage, was perfect. That distinct voice brought us back a time when music was quite different from what was being played tonight.
I’m just trying to picture Steve Earle with a Flock of Seagulls haircut. I prefer the bandana.
Steve is an amazing storyteller, that almost matches his musical prowess. He shared that side 1 of the album was a political message. They were just coming to terms with the Vietnam War and Steve was not one to stay quiet.
In fact, Steve is sitting on this next political album to coincide with the next US elections, so I’m sure he’s ready to shake things up!
Side 2 is a collection of “Chick Songs”. He now realizes that this may have been the reason he was married seven times, including twice with the same woman. The word “alimony” must hit a nerve.
Between songs, he told us many stories, including how he went to Nashville in 1974 but didn’t get a record deal till 1986. “It was probably my fault.” He confesses.
Steve told us, to preface “Once You Love” that he had taken up to writing/living in a studio apartment with Larry Crane, the guitarist of John Mellencamp. At one point, they needed some fresh air, so they went into Steve’s 1978 Eldorado. The sound of a revving engine was replaced with a simple click, indicating that this Eldorado was not in the mood budge.
Steve next did two almost extinct actions. He went to a pay phone & called a cab.
Steve’s manager was as optimistic as a vegan looking over the menu of a steakhouse. “It’s too early in your career”, he would say, “to have car payments.”
Steve was not going to let car payments get in the way of him getting to the beer store. He bought a car & they got the beer quest reward they started out for.
These were the events that preceded the writing of “Once You Love”, a song which has nothing to do with cars nor beer.
Steve is sober now and pointed out that during this tour, there would be no bottled water on stage. They simply had metal water bottles, which is brilliant.
They finished the set with a remake of “Hey Joe” that was masterfully done.
The encore would start with “Dixieland”, followed by “Ben McCulloch”.
As Steve strums his guitar gently, he speaks to us about life and relationships.
He was once asked in an interview to describe himself with one word. The word chosen was: Romantic. At 63, he might attempt marriage number 8, if the right girl came along, but he did make a case for sitting anywhere he wanted in the movie theatre and being able to show up on time.
This humorous speaking intro brought us to the end with “The Girl on the Mountain”.
Steve loves Canada and he reminded us: “Don’t forget to be Canadian. Shining light in our history.”
Steve also loves fans. Whereas many other bands will have a VIP ticket with a meet and greet, Steve assured us he would stick around after the show to sign stuff and pose for pictures. A very generous offer.
As I left the MTelus, I could appreciate that I just saw a legend of country and rock. The crowd loved every minute of it and sang along to the songs from a different era, but that resonate just the same.
Back to the Wall
The Devil’s Right Hand
Johnny Come Lately
Even When I’m Blue
You Belong to Me
Waiting on You
Once You Love
Nothing but a Child
So You Wannabe an Outlaw
Lookin’ For A Woman
The Firebreak Line
I Ain’t Ever Satisfied
I’m Still In Love With You
The Galway Girl
The Week Of Living Dangerously
Fixin’ to Die
The Girl on the Mountain
Review – Randal Wark
Photos – Kieron Yates